Western Asians are Western

The above diagram really hits at something important. Back when I was commenting on Sepia Munity, or as I read The Aerogram, I always come back to the reality that many people of Asian heritage who grew up in the United States or Europe are culturally Western.

Therefore, fundamental aspects of Asian culture were always refracted through a Western lens. When I read The Aerogram I know what I’m getting: the story will end with a progressive (Western) “final thought.” The types of Asian Americans who write this type of journalism are politically progressive. Those of us who are Asian American, and not progressive, do other types of work.

Not that there is anything wrong with this…but there is often a tendency to not take non-Western culture on its own terms. People of Asian origin in the United States are identified as fundamentally and deeply Asian because of their faces in their native environment, the West. They are ambassadors and exemplars of Asiatic ways. But over the years these people forget that Asians living in Asia see them, rightly, as Western. They have no authority from authenticity, the authority is given to them by non-Asian Westerners who don’t know sari from salwar.

“Woke Asians” are actually simply “woke,” and so they have internalized a world-system where it is bad whites/colonialists against good PoC. When Asian values, Asian practices, don’t fit into the narrative, the prosecution brings the case against Asians for being insufficiently authentic, of being distorted by hegemonic “colonialist” paradigms.

The sin of “oppression” is universal, not particular.

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21 Replies to “Western Asians are Western”

  1. It is hard for most western diaspora raised Asians to remain in the authentic and relevant space for the core territory/countries. There are continents and oceans in between. Language retention is minimal and that in itself shuts out an entire ecosystem.

    But this isn’t to say this is a static situation. It actually isn’t.

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  2. “But over the years these people forget that Asians living in Asia see them, rightly, as Western.”
    Only to be reminded whenever, say, an Asian work is adopted by Hollywood and they are annoyed as it is correctly and faithfully reported that, e.g., Japanese in Japan have no problem with Scarlett Johansson playing a role that was Japanese in the original, and in fact tend to be more upset about Chinese or Koreans portraying Japanese than just changing a character completely to white.
    Indeed, the entire concept of “Asian” (particularly as a race) is an utterly Western invention that, to the extent it exists in various Asian countries is a legacy of interactions with Europe and the West (including some pre-colonial interactions.)
    Asian-Americans are more visible minorities, which makes assimilation harder than some groups like Italians or Greeks, but it doesn’t change that anyone Asian-American is neither exactly one or the other. People can accept and embrace that, or deny one part or the other, their choice. (The effect is even larger among adoptees or those of mixed heritage, of course.)

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    1. John Thacker, most Asian American have no problem either. Only a few high profile post modernist ones do. The main stream global media is deeply misleading.

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  3. Indeed, the entire concept of “Asian” (particularly as a race) is an utterly Western invention that, to the extent it exists in various Asian countries is a legacy of interactions with Europe and the West (including some pre-colonial interactions.)

    this is not totally true. china, korea, vietnam, and to a lesser extent japan, were all part of a cultural-diplomatic zone longer before european contact, and saw themselves as distinct from inner asia and south & southeast asia.

    the affinities are clear when you see preference for vietnamese foreign wives in rural korea (on physical and cultural grounds).

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    1. Yes, that’s exactly my point. The concept of the countries you name that learned Chinese characters made sense, as they had trade as well as often hostile relations (just for Korea, the different alliances of the three Korean kingdoms with neighboring powers, the Japanese invasions of Korea leading to balancing aid from Ming China, the Manchu/Qing invasions and eventual submission to Chinese imperial authority, then the Japanese again), but “Asian” as an umbrella term that includes the subcontinent, inner Asia, all of Southeast Asia (and, for that matter, originally included the Middle East, the initial belief that the Ottomans were both European and Asian becoming more of seen an Asian output on Europe as opposed to just an infidel aggressor as the eighteen century became the ninteenth, etc.) is Western in origin. (As was the delightful argument about where exactly “Asia” started, which the Russians had quite an opinion about.)

      Races and concepts are socially determined, by kinship as well as shared culture and diplomacy. If Asians in Asia were and are drawing the lines, they would not create an “Asian” identity even when dividing the world into larger than nation-state or ethnicity based groups, even if they drew, e.g., a CJKV Han character history race. Pan-Asianism is essentially a Western concept, and Asian-Americans (and others) who use it are as guilty of a charge of “Orientalism” as anyone.

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  4. Great little article, Razib. I don’t think most sub-continentals in the West think too deeply about oppression or race relations, they just want to get ahead in status/money in this rat race of life. But apart from interactions with a few distant relatives who moved over years ago, I don’t know much about desi-americans. But I do know a bit about desi-brits, who can all be described as ‘western’ but to various degrees depending on personal ethics and preferance for sherwanis over suits.

    But how does one feel ‘western’? Is it a preference for English? Inability to use squat toilets? Inability to watch Hindi/Tamil/etc films without subtitles? Having qualms about bending/breaking rules when no one is watching? A quick-witted ability to ‘jugaad’ one’s way out of a tough spot? Attending temple/mosque/gurudwara regularly? If it is any of these criteria, then I suspect many ‘natives’ will be caught out as well since everything’s on a spectrum isn’t it…

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    1. unless you are a frog-nazi or european western isn’t one thing (eg race). but western brownz who visit india know they’re american or british real quick.

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  5. When Asian American families start feeling comfortable to keep guns at home that’s when a real shift in values will be evident lol

    Assimilation means you are there in society at all levels. So the hard question about this is not squatting on the potties but maybe levels of enlistment in military, in police and fire services, in community organizations beyond Parent Teacher Association , etc. It is about how involved one is or how much one is part of the civic society. Doing so in itself reflects a degree of assimilation and the expanded social connections also accelerates the process.

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      1. I tied it together with civic engagement overall, military enlistment is just an example.

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        1. your overall point is correct.

          i think intermarriage is the #1 issue. latest stats from 2010 were 30% or greater outmarriage rates among 1.5 gen or born here for brownz. that’s high.

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          1. Intermarriage is a weird area and a lot of nuances are there and it’s not a straight shot that intermarriage=assimilation vs non intermarriage as non assimilation.
            But yes I agree 30% is high. The US is very good at assimilating us and others from across Eurasia.

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    1. Bharatshontan, the US has many Asian American NCOs, officers, and veterens. Some of them are my friends. Asian Americans do well in the military and served well in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Many Iraqis and Afghans praised them greatly. I could provide you a large list of such soldiers and the locals + coalition allies who greatly valued them if it be of interest to you.

      Vietnamese Americans, Japanese Americans, Indian Americans, Korean Americans, Filipino Americans, Turkish Americans are particularly highly regarded in the US military. The US military has many muslim soldiers too.

      Many Asian Americans keep guns in their homes! And they are completely comfortable with it. I have Indian American friends who spend too much time practicing at gun ranges. I think they should do more Yoga, Tai Chi/Qui Gong, martial arts, dancing, sports or exercise instead.

      Many African Americans keep legal guns in their homes. African Americans generally support the right to bear arms–in part because so many African American males are in jail for the nonviolent crime of violating gun control laws. [The vast majority of African American males in prison are in prison for violent crime . . . but among those in jail for nonviolent crime it is mostly for violating gun control laws or drugs.] Personally I agree with the Mr. Loury that it is problematic to imprison 18 year old black boys for the crime of buying an illegal gun that is necessary to protect their sister, Mom, Grandmom or niece.

      Asian Americans are very much part of the American mainstream. Asian Americans are deeply involved in business association, community organizations, politics.

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  6. The thread’s title can be interpreted that West Asians are Western..

    I would say that alot of traditional Asia (India + China) are rapidly adopting Western values and dressing them with superficial features.

    British Asians are a very conservative lot; the Gujaratis of Leceister, Sikhs of Southall, Mirpuris of the North and Sylethis of Tower Hamlets are probably the vast demographic majority of Brit-Asians.

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    1. Does it have to do that american asians are the children of westernization , their parents mostly migrated in 70’s-80s with a high social profile in Subcontinent already (these people in India are “western” in India as well). While the Brit asians like the Kenyan Gujrati or the West Indian UP wala moved before the western values thing really set in. Feel its a class thing.

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      1. the 65-85 generation is different i think talking to genX vs. millennial & genY american brownz. the latter did not grow up in an isolated way and are a more ‘diverse’

        (i am part of the genX cohort)

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        1. Millennial onwards had added advantage of internet connectivity during formative years plus a trip back to homeland went down from three months paycheck to half a month worth, meaning easier back and forth. Global citizenship in da house

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